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l'enfer du North Island

  taupo roundup 2012 Tuesday, 27 November 2012 link

Driving to my third crack at the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, it occurred to me that we were driving past an erupting volcano in order for me to cycle around the remains of an exploded (dormant but not inactive) volcano. One way to put it into perspective for the overseas readers.

I'll say this for the organisation running it - the registration went seamlessly. Once again, I saw Trevor Mallard at registration - he's turned up at every cycle event I've enrolled at for the last couple of years. I think he may be stalking me.

The day itself was characterised by several themes. Wind was a key one, as was sun. I'm pretty sure we had a reasonable head or cross wind for most of the day. This wasn't too bad - it helped cut down the effect of the sun, which was pretty full-on throughout. Towards the end of the ride, I kept seeing people flaked out in the hedgerows, taking a few minutes lying in the grass verge to recover. People had clearly not quite taken on board the whole "keep hydrated" message, based on how they looked. I also had a good demonstration of the old maxim, "put the sunscreen on before your watch" - unfortunately, I now have a variety of amusing sunburn patterns from my watch and gloves.

Another theme was people commenting on my tattoos. The comments ranged from an old Maori bloke grunting "Nice ta moko" as he passed me, to an enduro rider on his fourth lap who muttered "Your tattoos are exquisite" as he passed me, to a bloke with fake tattoo arm warmers who made eye contact, looked down at his arms, and then laughed with me... as he passed me.

And yes, another theme was people passing me. I came in 3570th place (out of about 4200 riders doing the solo). I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am not the fastest rider in the bunch. The gold standard for a "good ride" around Taupo seems to be 5 hours; I'd be happy to crack 7. Still, I'm more doing it for the distance than the speed, and I finished the damn thing. Some of the people passing made interesting comments. The race number on your back has your name on it, so people can address you by name. Halfway around, an old French bloke passed me, saying "Bon courage, Jack! A steady pace, it is ze way!" Twenty minutes later (he must have stopped for water), he came past me again. "Ah, Jack! We meet again!"

I also idly kept a running tally of the riders I saw wearing replica team kit of riders who've admitted to doping. I kind of lost the count based on the issue of whether to count LiveStrong kit or not. Still quite a few people wearing it, though - I even saw a few classic US Postal strips.

People do seem to think that you have to be a fitness beast to ride Taupo. This is not the case. During the ride, I was passed by people significantly older than me; by people significantly younger than me (I swear to go, there were a couple of kids who looked to be about 10 riding a leg of the relay); by people who were a bit overweight; by people who were very overweight; and by people who looked as if they were about to expire from the effort. Moderate fitness and grim determination are all you really need. Ditto the perception that you need a flash bike - I got asked at the start line why I was bringing my old bike. The bike in question is the one I've had for a decade. It's not carbon fibre, but neither does it have wooden wheels. Again, during the day I saw people slugging away on ludicrously expensive carbon fibre bikes, as well as on old mountain bikes, fixies, 10-speeds from the 70s, a couple of recumbent tricycles and at least one tandem. Again: ride what you got, be prepared to grit your teeth and you'll get around.

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unspoilt by progress

calm, peaceful, sweary

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